Can’t you just tell when something is wrong with your friend? They give you the occasional “I’m good,” but you know something is up. It’s hard to get your friends to open up to you. As their friend, you don’t want to see them down in the dumps because if they’re not happy then you’re not happy.
You can’t expect your friends to open up to you every time something is going left in their life, either it can be too much to get into, or it’s too tough to explain. You know this feeling, there’s been times where you’ve been hurt before and didn’t know how to open up about it.
Even with my time in therapy, I had many appointments where the conversation was all small talk and nothing was solved. Even though I was there to see a therapist and talk to him about what was going on in my life, I couldn’t bring myself to it.
This is important to understand when it comes to your friends, no matter who you are to them, opening up may not be something that they want to do at the moment. There’s something that you’ll always not know about your friends, this isn’t a bad thing but it’s something that everyone in a relationship goes through.
You know something is wrong with your friends when the long and funny conversations start to become shorter and shorter with every phone call. It’s not a good feeling, you start wondering if you did something wrong or if they are really upset. You even begin to wonder how much longer your friendship will last with that person, it’s ok to have these thoughts because this is why you want to help.
As much as you want them to be ok, you also want them to still be your friend at the end of the day. Also, you don’t want their negativity to get to an extreme.
Match Their Mood
Matching somebody’s mood is the closest you will be to being in their shoes, this method allows you to get a similar perspective on how that person is viewing their life. This can be done by first looking at how someone is standing or sitting down, really take a look at their posture. If they’re feeling down then you might see them talking with their head down and constantly rubbing their forehead with their index finger and thumb.
When looking at this, try to casually act in the same way, you don’t have to copy their exact positioning but something similar so that you know how they may be feeling physically.
Next, you’re going to want to listen to the few words they say, it may be a couple of sentences or one-worded answers. Do the same when talking back to them except don’t use any condescending words directed towards them. Instead, say things like “I feel you” or “yeah that’s true.” What you’re doing in this instance is getting on their level of energy so that they can build a level of trust with you.
If you can’t do this in person then listen to the sound of their voice on the phone and try to match that tone. People have a harder time opening up to somebody who is not on the same energy level as them. One example of this that we’ve probably all experienced is when we’re going through a tough time in our lives and one of our friends starts to talk about themselves and their problems.
Of course, we should always be open to listening to our friends but what about how we feel. Talking to your friend about some of your problems can already be hard enough, if they somehow make the conversation about themselves then you are going to be even more upset than you were before talking to them.
Don’t ever try to force a conversation onto your friends when you know something is wrong, this can make things worse and you’ll be viewed almost as an enemy in the situation.
Open Up to Them First
This is a method that I like to use not only with my friends but with anyone I meet when I want to learn more about them. This breaks the ice between the two people in conversation, not making one feel too scared to speak. When your friends see that you’re not afraid to be vulnerable then they won’t be afraid either. You can do this by sharing something that’’s been bothering you in your life or a story that somehow relates to the small talk you guys are having.
An example of this would be meeting up with your friend to get food and you can tell that they’re not in the best mood. they say that everything is alright but you know it's not, right when this happens you can talk about how you’ve been nervous about an upcoming job interview and how you’ve been dealing with that nervousness.
It’s important to let your friends help you with this problem as much they can so that they can see what it’s like to be helped. A few moments after explaining yourself and them giving you advice, you will begin to hear them open up about something.
You can make small assumptions about why they may be feeling down but nothing over the edge. Asking them questions like “I see that you’re not as happy today as usual,” is simply a conversation starter and will make your friend feel cared for. The worst thing that can happen from them hearing your assumption is them saying “no, I'm fine.” This isn’t a big risk to take so try using some assumptions to get them to open up.
Get into detail when opening up first, make them feel like they can feel what you’re going through. They will do the same for you when you decide to be a listening ear.
Have Patience With Them
There's nothing harder to have in this world than patience at times, we live in a world where we want everything as soon as possible. Whether it's a package from Amazon or fast food.
Your friends will open when they’re ready, they’re not going to open up to you when you first talk to them. If you truly want to help your friend get over whatever they’re going through then be patient. It may not be the first time you see them down but it may the third or fourth time where they will be willing to open up.
This is common with a lot of guys and their friendships. It wouldn’t be “manly” of them to open and talk about whatever they’re going through. This makes a lot of the relationships untrustworthy and not real friendships.
Even when your friends are not ready to open up, be there for them. Sometimes your friends just want someone to be around so that they don’t feel lonely while suffering. You guys don’t have to talk, you can sit there in silence or eat some food together or do one of your favorite hobbies. The more time you spend with anyone, the more comfortable they will be to opening up.
It’s truly useful to be able to have somebody open up to you when you see that they need to. It’s not an easy skill to obtain but once mastered, it can be used to help many people. I’ll leave you with a quote from Shannon L. Alder that says
“You can’t selectively numb your anger, any more than you can turn off all lights in a room, and still expect to see the light.”